Grief & Loss

How Granger Smith’s “Heaven Bound Balloons” Got New Meaning

Doug Bender

September 02, 2021 | 2 minute read

In early 2019, country music artist Granger Smith released “Heaven Bound Balloon,” a song that soon became a fan favorite, especially for anyone who has lost a loved one. He sings about his kids releasing balloons up into the sky to say hello to their grandpa, their dog, a neighbor, and at least a dozen more. It’s a tear-jerker of a song that makes you want to reach out to heaven to lost loved ones. But the emotional impact of the lyrics was compounded when just months after the song’s release, Granger and his wife, Amber, lost their 3-year-old-son to a tragic pool accident. 

The song specifically mentions the name of their Labrador, Rio, who had died. And in the song, they release a red balloon up into the sky for their beloved pet. Amazingly, Rio is Spanish for River, the name of their 3-year-old-son who would die just months after the song’s release. In one of his first performances since the accident, Granger honored his lost son by releasing a red balloon in front of thousands of fans. He wrote the song long before the accident occurred, but it now had obvious and deeply personal new meaning. 

Under very different circumstances, my wife and I also lost a child a number of years ago. For us the loss came in the form of a still-born birth. But the tragedy still cut deep into our lives. We had a crib and baby clothes all ready to go, and then no baby. In the years since, we too have released a balloon each year on her birthday to tell her we miss her and love her. 

I don’t know exactly what happens to the balloon or our prayers to heaven. I know God hears them. And I know he sees the balloon. We ask God to forward the message to our lost child whom we called Hope. But from there I just have to trust he’ll do for her what she needs. 

In one sense sending balloons into the sky seems silly and wishful thinking. What is a balloon really going to do? But for us it has been a statement of hope and trust. For those of us who trust in Jesus, death is not the end. It’s the beginning. When King David in the Bible lost his child, he said, “Someday I’ll go to him. But he won’t return to me.” It was a statement of faith. He trusted that God had his son. And one day that he, too, would die and be with God and there see his son again. 

We know that God has our baby and one day we’ll get to see her. It’s just the in-between that can be hard. I occasionally send up prayers to God asking him to pass on a message. Sometimes it’s in the form of a balloon. Sometimes it’s after someone asks me how many kids I have, and I’m reminded that my answer is “complicated.” 

While I don’t know exactly how it all works or whether, like in Granger Smith’s song, God relays messages like, “We miss you and we love you.” But I do know that God has proven faithful in everything else I’ve asked of him. It’s why we named our child Hope. Because God has our hope and our Hope.

If you are needing an extra dose of hope and courage in the face of your own loss, then check out Granger and Amber Smith’s newly released story about how God has brought them through their loss. It’s even a bigger tear-jerker than the song.

Doug Bender

Doug Bender

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer and small groups coach. He developed many of the small group tools found at and has coached churches, organizations, and individuals to use I Am Second groups to share the message of Jesus with their friends and family. He also works with I Am Second's parent organization, e3 Partners, as a church planter and pastor in countries such as Ethiopia, Colombia, and the US. Doug and his wife, Catherine, have four children: Bethany, Samuel, Isabella, and Jesse.

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